Kids like video
games partly to get a chance to do grown-up stuff like build cities, fly jets
and drive race cars. Well, now farmers have a new video "game" of their own to
play--only they can use it for serious business: running a farm.
It's called FarmWin 97, and it lets farmers to do all
kinds of farm chores in a computer, rather than in the "real world." No, they
don't use it to get out of doing their chores, but as a way to see how doing
various jobs differently might save--or cost--more time and money. Craig Murphy
helped scientists with the Agricultural Research Service develop FarmWin 97. He
uses the game to move around trucks, tractors and a whole bunch of cows, sheep,
goats, wild horses and pigs.
are so serious about this game they have computers in their tractors and
special receivers to pick up location signals from military satellites in the
sky to help them play. Many boats, trucks and cars have these receivers for
plotting their positions on a computer map. Hikers and military personnel use
them to keep from getting lost. In precision farming, they're on tractors,
along with other equipment like radar guns.
Why would farmers put radar guns under their
1) As an early warning system to prevent alien
2) So they can catch deer speeding?
3)So they can be sure the tractor is going the right
speed for putting fertilizer on the soil?
Farmer Murphy's FarmWin 97 "game" is really more like a
flight simulator, allowing farmers to practice before making real farming
decisions that cost a lot of money.
Even deciding where animals graze has an effect on farmer
Murphy's checkbook. He can't let animals eat grass in the same pasture every
year, because even grass needs a break.
FarmWin 97 lets
him "play" at driving tractors and opening the barn door to let the animals in
or out. By driving the tractor on the screen first, Murphy can find out how
much gas he would use up driving around a field before actually using real gas.
When Murphy does have to buy real gas, FarmWin 97 records the purchase and puts
gas in a tank on the computer screen. And--you won't find this in your typical
computer game--FarmWin is actually connected to his real-life checkbook! It
helps him keep track of what he spends.
You may never before have thought of farming
as a high-tech kind of business--but it is! For example, Murphy uses the
computer program to remind him what's happening in each of his many fields. For
example, he doesn't usually want to grow the same plants in a field two years
in a row. This is because pests and disease become worse in a field if they
have a chance to attack the same plants every year. If they could talk, the
pests might say: "Hey, this is THE place to be; it's got everything we want,
year after year. Let's get all the relatives over and party!"
Market prices, soil conditions and even the weather all
affect Murphy's decision making--and the computer "game" helps him take these
things into account, too.
Murphy not only plays the game, he helped invent it and is
one of the farmers who owns the company that makes it, Sunrise Software in
Morris, Minnesota. These farmers developed FarmWin 97 as a
effort with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists and computer software
The scientists put in
the latest information from their research on soils, crops and other areas of
Murphy's team keeps trying to make FarmWin 97 better. One
way they've done this is by fixing it so farmers can link the game to other
programs they buy, like one that draws maps of farm fields using information
from the tractor's computer and satellite receiver.
They tested the program on
their own farms and made sure it worked before making it available to other
Why do you think farmer Murphy would want maps of his
1) To find the buried pirate treasure.
2) To find out which parts of the field need more or
3)To find his way home.
Don Comis, Agricultural Research Service,